When to Tell Kids . . . *ETA - One More Thought

Updated on July 17, 2019
M.6. asks from Woodbridge, NJ
17 answers

I was diagnosed with cancer yesterday. It's treatable - I'll live. As some of you may recall, my husband was diagnosed with cancer last year. He isn't a candidate for treatment at this time, but he is doing well and the cancer is moving slow enough that it isn't an urgent situation while we are waiting for treatment to become an option for him.

Anyways, my dad's celebration of life is this Saturday (he passed in December). Our girls will all be there, which is somewhat of a minor miracle since they live in 3 different states. I had thought that I would tell them after the celebration of life - on Saturday night. I figured that the celebration won't be TOO emotional - dad's been gone for 7 months and we've done our grieving, this is just the first time it worked to get everyone together to do this event.

However . . .

My oldest daughter's fiance called to tell me that he is proposing to my daughter on Friday when they land. He wants to propose to her where she grew up, which is sweet. He is kind of banking on the same theory I was - so seldom is everyone together and the daughter he is proposing to lives the farthest away and we see her the least (only due to distance/cost of travel) and he knows we all want to share this special milestone with the both of them. He was verifying with me that it wouldn't be in bad form to do this the day before dad's celebration of life. I told him that it was a wonderful idea and dad would be thrilled to have such a happy event so close to our celebration of our memories of him.

Now, if I tell the kids on Saturday night, I feel it would throw a black cloud over my daughter's happiest day. If I don't, I have to tell them by phone. We have no scheduled functions near enough in the future that I can wait to tell them and we can't schedule one since everyone is "booked" for months (which is why it took us until July just to do dad's celebration). I have a daughter due next month with her first baby, but oldest daughter has already said she can't come for the birth due to work, but will try to fly out in October/November to meet baby, and celebrate the other grandkids b'days all at the same time.

So . . . tell them in person on Saturday night or by phone one day next week. One more complicating factor is we did have to tell them about hubby's cancer via phone and it was expressed to us that they wished we could have done it in person. We couldn't - nothing was planned for a get together for months, but I know they wished it could have happened in person.


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So What Happened?

One last thought - I am somewhat shocked at the idea of never telling my kids, or waiting until I am "cured" and then "surprise" them with the happy news that I beat cancer. 68% of cancer diagnosed folks survive their diagnosis. My own mother has had breast cancer once and 4 bouts with lung cancer (non-smoker) in the last 10 years and ran a 1/2 marathon last month. I can't imagine my mom not telling me and I'd never burn down that trust bridge with my kids. I would be beyond devastated if one of my adult children had cancer (or any other serious issue) and didn't tell me. Not telling them or waiting until treatment is over and praying that they don't find out isn't an option for me.

ETA: Well, sometimes fate takes our choices away from us. Sounds like daughter who is pregnant is going on travel restrictions today (thought it would happen at 38 weeks, but sounds like 37 weeks now), and if that happens, will not be attending the celebration of life and if I have to tell HER by phone, I might just go ahead and do a family phone meeting next week with all the kids. Still debating whether to Facetime her Saturday night and go ahead with the news and handle it that way . . . Sunday isn't an option (would have been nice if it was) as oldest daughter and her fiance fly out super early Sunday morning heading for different destinations due to work needs.

Thanks for all the advice and support!

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answers from Anchorage on

I would wait, I would not want to take from the happy moment. I would just call even though I know that is not ideal. My mother told me over the phone, and while I wished I could have hugged her in that moment I appreciated her telling me.

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answers from New York on

I am so sorry that you are dealing with this new diagnosis.

I think the best way to handle it is this: you have three very distinct and very important concepts this weekend, do a deep dive for each in a "bubble".

Friday night = engagement bubble. Pop champagne, have some yummy food, hugs and smiles all around. After Friday, no further "engagement partying" is required this weekend.

Saturday day = dad bubble. Do everything you were planning to do for that.

Saturday night = your news bubble. Say that you just wanted to use the moment to address it in person.

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answers from Boston on

I’m in the minority but think you should wait. I read about a family where the mother had cancer for many years and they never even told the kids so their childhoods weren’t about their mother being sick. Yours are grown so it’s different but since your cancer is luckily early and treatable, I’d wait. People will still be sad after your dad’s service and your daughter should get at least a week to be super happy and excited. I’d want to give her that week or two. Nothing she can do for you so I’d handle it myself for a bit. And I’d not even say later I knew at the time so telling over the phone was only option. And think of the poor fiancé. He’s all excited and everyone should be happy and focused on them and bam - this stifles it all. And why? Nothing they can do and it’s not an urgent situation people need to react to bc you are immediately heading into surgery or something.
That’s my take but you know your family beat. Good luck with treatments etc. Sounds like you’ll be ok but no fun.

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answers from Norfolk on

I'm having such mixed feelings - guess it will be the same for your family.
While a cancer diagnosis sucks and is stressful - you found it early and it's treatable - which is a relief.
Progressing through treatment will be it's own process which will come a bit later.
It seems big news and life events just comes in clusters.

I like Chacha's concept of event bubbles.
Take them one at a time, and process each as they happen.
Here's hoping for a speedy and easy path to remission and being cancer free.

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answers from Portland on

Oh I'm so sorry to hear this. Thankfully it is treatable. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I did remember your husband has cancer. What a lot.

When my dad was sick and I was told, I just went into shock. I don't think there's ever a good time, is there? I think the fact that the happy celebration (engagement) will be ahead of it and then the celebration of life will take place, and then you will share your news - and it is treatable, and you'll all be together - is the way to go.. there really is no good time, but you're right, you'll all be together and that's what is important.

They will still have their moment. He has decided to ask her on this occasion which is to do with your dad's memorial so .. he already knows it's a sentimental time. I think it's ok, personally.

Hugs to you. Keep us posted

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answers from Boston on

I'm so sorry you have yet another burden to bear, after all you have handled with regard to pretty much everyone else in the family.

I'm another one voting for Chacha's idea - bubbles and boundaries. Having seen you at a happy time and at a time of mourning (while still celebrating), they will see your strength and your capacity to manage. You have been the family's rock - it's time to let them be your rock. They've already said how they hope to find out these things, so defying them and deciding they don't need to know now seems disrespectful. You do not have little children - you have grown children and it's time for them to be adults now and bear the news and heaviness of heart that you have carried for them all these years. I think it would be an insult to suggest that they can't handle it and only you can manage all these burdens. Besides, it might make you look like a martyr. Your guiding philosophy has been that we all do what needs to be done, whether it's fun or hard or tedious or miserable. Don't exclude your kids - bring them into your circle of love. If you have to, include your pregnant daughter via Facetime so she hears the whole discussion.

Wishing you continued strength and a positive outcome.

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answers from Miami on

I am so sorry that you have to go through this. My best to you in all you will have on your plate in the days to come with your treatment.

In regards to your question, please don’t tell your family this weekend. It’s too much! Your daughter and her husband will always remember their happy announcement to the family. If you announce your news, they will always remember the weekend as a frightening sadness, no matter how much you declare that “you’ll live.” Please give them this space of time of happiness. And the same goes for the rest of the family.

If you found out this news after this particular weekend, you would manage. There is no reason not to proceed with telling your family members in this manner. And as you navigate your procedure plan with your doctors, you can answer questions your kids have even better.

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answers from Atlanta on

I don't have any wisdom to share about the process for informing your kids of the diagnosis. I just want to send you lots of good wishes and strength for the process ahead. It's great to hear that the prognosis is so very hopeful. Your calmness is admirable.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I'm so sorry about your diagnosis. I think what chacha suggested sounds good -- deal with one event at a time.

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answers from Atlanta on

ETA: I like Cha-Cha's idea. Sounds like you can keep everything separate and still enjoy the family. Since you know your daughter won't be there, I'd suggest that you plan a facetime or something like that with her so she can hear the news at the same time. I'd do that for each event so she can "be there".

It depends upon the cancer you have. If it's something like melanoma which is treatable? I would tell my kids I was diagnosed with melanoma. Here is the plan of attack. Doctor's say 100% treatable and can make a full recovery.

I would NOT tell them this weekend. While it's great that they would all be together. There is so much else going on. Your daughter's engagement should be a happy time. Celebrating your father's life, while sad, you're celebrating good times and wonderful memories.

I would wait until I have a plan in place with the doctor and tell them all at once. Especially since their dad has cancer too. Just a double-whammy. I'm really sorry. I hope your cancer is gone soon and you don't have any ill-side affects from treatment.

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answers from Denver on

Sorry to hear of your diagnosis, but thankful you will be getting treatment and begin the healing process.

I think that given what your kids said about being told about your husband's illness on the phone, I'd respect that, and tell them in person on Saturday night. I like how chacha outlined it.

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answers from Washington DC on

oh, MM, what a dilemma!

first off, i'm so sorry about your diagnosis. i'm glad it's not more dire and am beyond impressed at your strong, positive attitude.

my first thought would be to share the news privately with your future SIL and ask him to change the proposal date. i do think that on an occasion that's already at least somewhat fraught with solemnity, and everyone present in real time, it's the best opportunity to share the news with your kids. especially since they've expressed the desire not to hear that sort of thing by phone again (although frequently there's just no other way.)

if that's not in the cards, then i'd allow the celebration of life and proposal to proceed, and resign yourself to breaking the news later. can you arrange a video conference?

sending you strength.


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answers from Washington DC on

ETA: Depending upon the cancer you have and it's treatable and you will live - you CAN wait to tell them unless you feel like you will need their support during your recovery. It's like when my dad had melanoma cancer - he waited until after treatment to tell us. You do what you need to do. I'm still sorry you are going through this.

I'm really sorry you are going through this. However, the good news is that you are treatable and will live. IF you really feel like you need to say something? I would wait until after you're all cured and tell them "hey! I just wanted you to know.,..and we didn't tell you because we didn't want any of you stressing"

I would wait until treatment is closer, personally. I would try and do a conference call with all of them so that they all hear it at the same time and not "well you told Jane first", etc.

CONGRATULATIONS on your family growing!! These are great things!! A new born and a new son-in-law!! LOVE!!!

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answers from San Francisco on

ETA: well, gee, you made it seem like not that big of a deal. If you're going to be getting chemo and the whole 9 yards then of COURSE tell your children!
I'm so sorry for your diagnosis. I'm sure it's hard to think straight right now.
Since you say it's treatable and you'll live, I'm assuming that whatever kind of cancer and treament you're having is going to be relatively non invasive (?) If it were me I probably wouldn't say anything to my kids at all. I would hate to cause them uneccessary worry and suffering unless there was REALLY something to worry about.
This is just what I would do, but if you have a real need to share then can't you just skype or face time as a family or something like that?

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answers from San Francisco on

I'm glad you that your cancer is treatable.

I don't believe in hiding things from my kids, and since I put so much time into my kids I expect them to be able to emotionally support me, now that they are adults, if and when necessary. So I would personally tell them as soon as possible, by phone or in person, however I would not usurp another important occasion to do so.

I'm a little surprised that people think you shouldn't tell your kids. I believe in telling our children the truth. It's life. We don't need to shield them from information. In addition, I know my kids would want to know. When people shielded me from important information when I was young it was harmful. When my dad had cancer, they waited a while to tell me. I wish they hadn't waited, because it limited the time I was able to do things for my dad.

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answers from New York on

Sorry to hear your diagnosis. I'm 1 + year in remission so know what you're going through. Glad to hear that it seems to have been caught early. Sounds like your dilemma has been resolved through circumstances but just want to say that as much honesty as early as possible is best. Best of luck through your treatment. It is amazing how many people you find who are going through the same thing.

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answers from Abilene on

Military Mom-

I am sorry you are having to deal with this but grateful you feel it’s treatable with a good prognosis. I can’t stress to you enough that you need to take really good care of yourself during this time. My thoughts are with you.

Will everyone still be together Sunday? I think telling them in person is important since they stated what they did about their dad.

The only thing I wonder about is telling in the evening. It’s hard to sleep when given stressful news later in the evening. With my family, I try to tell them things that are hard earlier in the day so they have longer to process. Just a thought.

This news will be hard no matter what - but strength and love from family is a powerful thing.

Blessings of strength to you as you fight this.

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